I’m on a boat…

AUNK! AUNK! AUNK! Sounded the emergency horns, as the lights by the fire alarms flashed furiously. AUNK! AUNK! AUNK! “ATTENTION ON DECK, ATTENTION ON DECK, ABANDON SHIP! ABANDON SHIP! THE BOAT IS SINKING. PROCEED TO THE LIFEBOATS!” …this is a drill (in a quiet, soft voice).

WTF! Couldn’t you have started with, “This is a drill”? The fact that a lifejacket wearing crew member then scurried by, did not fully comfort us. We thought that Mr. Murphy had pulled the ultimate F-U on us. Good thing we can swim, we thought, and hopefully fast enough to get to the small island off our starboard side, before we succumb to hypothermia or are eaten by an orca. Luckily it was only a drill, and we got to watch them practice launching the lifeboats.

Our shuttle bus driver dropped us off at the Juneau ferry terminal, and after having consolidated our loose gear into one duffle, that Paul has now dubbed our “Schluffle”, we dumped that bad boy on the baggage cart and made our way to the Solarium at the stern of the Matanuska for an 8 hour voyage to Skagway, two hours of which would be spent in a stop at the Port of Haines.

The Solarium is an open deck with half of it covered providing protection from the rain. The covered portion is accented with overhead space heaters, and if you’re quick, you can grab your own plastic recliner. Here they also have large storage lockers for .50¢ (so don’t forget a few quarters) for when you want to walk about the boat or hit terra firma’s during a port layover. Several people had apparently boarded much earlier as there was a tent set up on the opened deck, and a hammock hanging between two support poles under the covered area. Sounds of slumber emitted from both. For ones convenience, there are restrooms, complete with a shower. It was a beautiful morning. While there are plenty of “more comfortable” places out of the weather, we elected to park ourselves here for the ride.

Even though the skies were cloud filled, they retained their moisture. The air was a warm 62°, and as expected it warmed up even more. The seas were glassy. It appeared to be a perfect day for a boat ride. One Alaskan, remarked as we all positioned our plastic recliners on the deck of the Solarium, “Finally, it’s summer!”. So far, Southeast Alaska has experienced a fairly wet summer, and this break in the weather is a welcome treat. When we stopped in Haines, a cook from the galley came out, pointed to the hills above, and asked, “Does anyone know what that is?”. Straining to see what he was talking about, I quickly realized he was talking about the heat emitting orange fire ball in the sky. ‘Oh, that?’, I responded, “It’s the sun. You can find it behind the clouds. It hangs in the blue sky’. The man laughed, “I can’t even remember how long it’s been. At least it’s not raining”.

We spent the bulk of the day lounging with a gaggle of like-minded folk at the Solarium, and with the exception of the “sinking drill”, our voyage was uneventful. We marveled at the landscapes on either side of us. The lighting however, only allowed for muted colors.

It was like being in a never ending gallery of black and white Ansel Adams wilderness photos. Wilderness porn at it’s best.

Slowly melting glaciers wedged between the folds of the mountains gave way to fractured waterfalls, that my friend Jan would be tickled pink by. The rawness of the scenery was of such epic proportions that one’s actual presense is required to fully appreciate it. It appears that our timing may superb, and we may be treated to an actual Alaskan summer, with rich blue skies, starry nights, and if it must rain, it will only be a spritzing.

Posted in Alaska, Alaskan Marine Highway, Chilkoot Trail, Mini Adventures, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Juneau!

So the night before we left, I booked us a room at the Driftwood Hotel in downtown Juneau. We originally we’re determined to camp out at the ferry terminal for the night, but those hopes of living on the cheap we’re dashed when we learned that no such thing was allowed, hence the late night booking through Booking.com. I chose this location, as opposed to the Historic Alaskan Hotel and Bar (that was $35 cheaper), because the Driftwood offered a free shuttle. I figured a cab from the airport and then back to the ferry the next morning would easily be in excess of the $35 dollar difference. This spot turned out to be a great location, and was an easy walk to bustling downtown Juneau. The hotel was clean and rustic with a friendly and helpful staff who endured Paul’s jokes. As I had selected the cheapest room available, ours was appointed with surprisingly comfortable twin beds and fluffy down pillows. Next door was a liquor store, and what TripAdvisor rated as the “Best Breakfast/Brunch” place…The Sandpiper Cafe. After breakfast this morning, we concur.

Shortly after we had checked into our hotel, we began our wander of downtown Juneau, Alaska’s state capital. Three large cruise ships we’re in port and the streets were alive with “outdoor” gussied up travelers. Our first stop was Wells Fargo to ensure we had enough cash on hand. Across the street from the Wells Fargo ATM was one of two newly operational marijuana retail stores (Alaska recently legalized marijuana. The state raises revenue by taxing the growers $50 an ounce…so one can only imagine what the retail costs are), and almost next to that, on the other corner, was a Subway sandwich store. A cannabis trifecta! One couldn’t plan a better symbiotic business model.

The only problem is that the cannabis store is only open from noon till 6pm. Not sure how they stay in business. However some local kids (20 something year olds, we met while sampling a flight of beer at the Alaskan Brewing Co. Outpost store on the wharf) told us that “all the best weed is gone” by the time they can get there, because all the “old people” have bought it all out! Poor kids. These “kids” we’re hilarious. They were all tour bus drivers and were blowing off some steam after having spent the day with the cruise boat “public”. When we started laughing, they apologized for being so loud. We told them we more than understood, having retired from public service. From there great conversations and a lot of laughter ensued. One of the gals had done the Chilkoot Trail the previous summer and gave us some good tips. Two of them lived full-time in Alaska, while the other two were only working seasonally before they go back to school in Utah. Turns out they are familiar with the area that we like to hunt in Utah, and were impressed that Californian’s, especially from SoCal, hunted. Before we parted ways, we asked them what were the funniest questions they got from the public. Asking what the elevation of Juneau is (which is sea level) was the most common, but the best was, “At what elevation do the deer turn into moose?”. OMG, Paul and I would so love their job. Of course we would probably not last that long as our witty retorts would most likely land us retired…once more.

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Leaving…on a Jet Plane

So if this morning is any indication of how this trip will go, we are in for a douzy! We have two large duffle bags that our fully loaded backpacks and the rest of our gear, not related to our hiking trip, fit into. We were careful to ensure they did not weigh in excess of the magical 50lbs…(that used to be 70lbs not too long ago) least we pay even more for the “privilege” of bringing our stuff with us. That being said, our son drove us to the airport and dropped us at our terminal…American Airlines. The problem came about when we had been standing in line to get our boarding passes and drop off our bags. I pulled out our paperwork, and while I had booked our flight through American Airlines via a vast accumulation of “points”, our actual flight was with Alaskan Airlines…duh! (See what happens when you get old and your eyes, absent “readers”, see an “A” and assume it means American, even though you know you’re going to Alaska) Problem was now how to get to the Alaskan terminal… gracefully. Was it terminal “B” or “C”. Was it a quarter mile or half mile schlep with these 50lb duffles that are in no way easy to carry as opposed to a 50lb perfectly balanced backpack. Now if we were smart, we would have taken our packs out of the bags, donned them and carried the now extremely light duffles (in hand), as we had no idea (without asking…who does that?), how far the schlep would be. The smart part, we weren’t, but the 2moremiles lucky part, we were. It was the next terminal. The good part also is that our pack will seem relatively light, and dare I say “comfortable” when we don them Wednesday. After schlepping the duffle, I now wish I brought my travel roller to roll out my back as I’m pretty sure I tweaked it wrestling that awkward duffle en route to our proper terminal. Meanwhile Paul limped a bit as last night he tweaked his achilles (the one he tore several years ago) doing something as innocuous as walking. It’s amazing we are still able to do these things. Our years of playing water polo, swimming, and time spent being in big surf and generally pushing the limits of our bodies (and minds) have taken their toll on us. But I think it is the very fact that we have pushed ourselves so hard, that enables us to push through pain and fatigue, and continue to do the things we do, as we (God willing) continue to add laps around the sun. We do know, that currently while the mind is willing, the body at some point will tell us to go “F” ourselves. With that in mind, we have saved going on cruises for that chapter in our lives.

In keeping with the cruise theme, we had a gentleman 3 rows ahead of us, speaking loudly during the safety talk (and the flight attendant standing right next to him doing her pantomime thing did nothing to “shush” him…very annoying) prior to pushing from the gate out of Seattle, about his horrible cruise experience. Now we were actually trying to listen and watch the safety talk, even though we could probably do it ourselves, namely because we don’t want to be “those people”, when shit goes down, in the event Mr. Murphy (of Murphy’s law) decides to grace us with his presence earlier than expected. So, as we could not clearly hear the overhead speaker, but could, clearly hear this gentleman, we decided to listen in to the gentleman’s tale of whoe. It appears that early on in his cruise to/through the inside passage of Alaska, who knows how long ago, he became ill after dinner (as in flu like symptoms). He went to the infirmary to see the ship’s doctor. The ship’s doctor immediately had him quarinteened, doused him, and everything he told them he may have touched on the ship with antiviral gel. Now by morning he was feeling better, however they would NOT release him from quarinteen. He spent 4 of the 7 day cruise locked in his cabin unable to go to shore…or anywhere else for that matter. According to this gentleman, cruises are “horribly afraid” of the prospect of a viral illness spreading throughout the ship. Better to inconvenience one than an entire ship. He asked for and has apparently received a refund, seeing as he spent most of the trip in his cabin, because of an overnight bout of what turned out to be food poisoning. What we learned from this gentleman, in addition to where he was born, where he went to high school, the fact he served four years in the Marne Corps (and when he got out discovered how much “smarter” his father had become), the fact that South Central LA has changed since he was young, that, and many other things, (of which I could probably figure out his passwords) he is now retired from a law firm (but he wasn’t a lawyer), is that…when on a cruise, one should never go to the ship’s doctor because you are throwing up! Suck it up buttercup, and make sure your prayers to the porcelain god are in the confines of your room, lest you become locked in it. Once the wheels lifted off the tarmack, he, for all practical purposes, went silent.

Without anything else to grab my attention, I stared out the window and watched the terrain pass below me. As we flew, the mountains of Washington rose up from a smokey haze of low lying misty clouds, reminding me of fresh charcoal briquettes lying in a bed of ashes. The terrain then morphed into a maze of inlets and passages that crept, and seeped in, from the Pacific Ocean to our west. A minagere of lakes of all shapes and sizes filled the recesses of still growing mountains pushed up from the ocean’s depths, many of which were dusted with stubborn snow.

When it came time for refreshments, Mr. Murphy paid us (me) a visit. No sooner did I pick up my cranberry juice to take my first sip (trying to stay away from soda) and thereby quench my dry throat and vitamin C starved gullet, the cup slipped from my fingers and the entire contents washed over me like a rougue wave. (See what happens when one doesn’t give full attention to the safety talk!) Paul, after giving me the “now why’d you go and do that” look, tried to hail the flight attendant for a rag to sop up my mess, but alas she was too engrossed filling other’s drink orders (while I had wasted mine on my lap). Eventually a heap of napkins was tossed my way, but it was too late. My jeans had soaked up the red bittersweet liquid, as well as my new shoes of which I regret not chosing the waterproof versions.

I can’t help but notice as I “dry”, that I now smell as though I pissed myself. Kinda ironic considering what most people drink cranberry juice for. Awesome. F-U Mr. Murphy!

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Here we go… Again

Time for another adventure. This time we are off to Alaska. The last frontier. Home of swarming hummingbird size mosquitoes, large mammals with sharp teeth (and claws), vibrant ecosystems, tasty and often massive fish and crustaceans, dramatic landscapes, ridiculous beauty and some of the most resilient, pleasant and engaging people, that so proudly call themselves Alaskans. While this is not our first trip to Alaska, it will be our first time exploring and experiencing terra firma’s Alaska, as opposed to the salty depths of the Chattam Strait with monofilament, and an anchovy. Our first week in Alaska will find us traveling via the Alaskan Marine Highway from Juneau to Skagway, where we will pick up our permit to hike the Chilkoot trail of Klondike Gold Rush fame. Over five days (Yes five days. I have been promised low miles and NO morning alarm) we will wander the 33 mile route (43 if you count the walk from Skagway to Dyea…unless a kind Alaskan gives us a lift) and up over the 3525 ft Chilkoot pass, crossing the border into Canada, with the final destination of Lake Bennett. From there we will take the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway back to Skagway, and again board a ferry that will eventually take us to Angoon for a week of underwater foaraging for salmon, halibut, crab and shrimp. We might even get to compete with the grizzlies for salmon on a narrow river. Paul or I are not too excited about the grizzlies part, but then fishing in an 18ft Boston Whaler that could be over turned or crushed by a pod of Orca or a breaching grey whale into 42° (instant hypothermic water) doesn’t seem to particularly “fun” either, and yet we do it with great enthusiasm.

In preparation for this hike, I made the point to read James Michner’s “Alaska” (I love how he starts from the beginning of “time” and weaves fact with fiction into a colorful and relatable story). We watched a few History Channel videos about the Klondike Gold Rush which had a relatively short life-span of 4 years (1896-1899), paying particular attention to the areas we will be setting up camp along the way, and the route from “Sheep Camp” to the border, often referred to as the “Golden Stairs or Staircase“. We are especially grateful that the Canadian government no longer requires one to enter Canada via the Chilkoot Pass with 2000lbs of supplies in tow.  This route, the Chilkoot Trail has been aptly dubbed, the “meanest 33 miles in history”.

 

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“Golden Stairs” circa March-April 1898 (Courtesy of Murdock G.G, Library and Archives Canada)

Over 30,000 “stampeders and at least 60,000 tons of gear was hauled up and over the Chilkoot Pass down to Lake Bennett where many an aspiring prospector would build a boat and set out down the Yukon river…whether they could swim or not.  Many never made it over the pass, and even down the other side as a result of a fall, avalanche and even just pure exhaustion.  Even  more never survived the trip down the river.  We of course will not be traveling down the river (this time), but will return to Skagway via railway.  It was, in fact, this railway that put an end to the popularity and necessity of the Chilkoot Trail.  A welcome option for many a traveler who would rather not challenge their luck via terrain, weather and/or fur suited omnivores.  We on the other hand will live “dangerously” and follow the tracks of stalwart pioneers who risked everything, including their lives, to roll the dice, as it were, to “make it rich”.  We however will be dressed appropriately and be adequately prepared for the terrain and conditions, with our cooking stove being a JetBoil as opposed to a 400-700 pound cast iron stove, or those 19th Century “ultra-light” pioneers who carried a #12 size (6qt/7.5lbs) Dutch Oven.  And more importantly we will NOT be subjected to the snowy conditions as pictured above, which may or may not be a good thing, as the route mostly likely will now be free of snow and nothing more than a 2000 ft boulder scramble up one side and down the other.

 

To add to our trip and the telling of it’s story, we have purchased a GoPro Hero5 Sessions, and will try to add a Vlog dimension to 2moremiles adventures.  We will see how well these two luddites can evolve with technology, as sometimes words can not truly convey the terrain nor the experience, yet we will our my best, namely in hopes that it inspires one to wander outside one’s comfort zone and strike out on an adventure(s), if only for a day.

 

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Movie Night…in Spain

It’s been 2 years, and while I completed this “movie” about our 2015 thru-hike of the Camino de Santiago last Fall with Paul’s sister and brother-in-law, my relic of a desktop computer was unable to “talk” with the internet, specifically YouTube, to upload the final cut.  I made this using Cyberlink and have since learned quite a bit with regard to creating videos/movies of our journeys.  With any luck I will be able to rework and upload the one I made for our 2014 thru-hike of the PCT and post it by end of summer…if not sooner.

I’ve titled it “Our Way”.  This is 52:50 minutes long.  I hope you enjoy it, and more importantly hope it will inspire you to take a walk and explore the world.

 

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Casa Grande Ruins

We wanted to avoid going through Phoenix on our way back to California and take the “roads less traveled”, so on our way back to California we of course missed our turn (or rather, took a turn too soon) and ended up taking an even more circuitous route through what we learned (via Google) was certainly the historic “Wild West”.  It also weaved through “native lands” (that was pretty much stolen) of some of the oldest peoples of the southwest dating back thousands of years.  As history’s hindsight is generally 20-20, these peoples were ironically thought of as “savages”, during the westward expansion of “civilization” and of the United States’ Western territories.  When in fact many were fierce warriors protecting their lands.  From what we later learned, at the Casa Grande Ruins, they had a sophisticated society, rich in culture, with innovative farmers who created a widespread and amazing irrigation system, that survives today.

Fun Facts:  Arizona is home to two of the largest Indian Reservations (or rather sovereign Nations…under which the United States claims Plenary power), the Navajo and the Tohono O’odham.  Arizona has the second highest population of Native Americans in the country. 

When we left Safford, we drove through small non-descript, often hard-scrabble towns that obviously held some significance in their “hey-day”.  Places like: Thatcher (pop. 4,800) founded in 1881 by Mormon settlers and the childhood home of Jess Mortensen, former world record holder of the Decathlon in 1931.  He is well known in the annals of USC’s athletic history as an athlete and coach.  Pima (pop. 2500) founded in 1879 also by Mormon settlers, originally called “Smithville”. In 1882 Jesse N. Smith predicted a Mormon Temple would be built in Pima, or was it Thatcher (two separate accounts)? Anyhoo, in 2010, The Gila Valley Arizona Temple was built and dedicated ironically between the two towns!  Fort Thomas (pop. 374), home of Melvin Jones, founder of Lion’s Club International.  It was originally one of the “earliest” military posts in the west (Camp Goodwin), and considered the “worst fort in the Army” due to its persistent problem with malaria.  It’s low population makes sense now.  Globe (pop. 7500) established in 1875 and whose downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places, with a “wild and wooly” history of Indian conflicts,old west outlaws, stagecoach robberies, gun fights and ruthless murders, as well as the discovery of and mining of silver, and more recently cooper.  Florence (pop. 10,000) founded in 1866, is the Pinal County seat, and rich in history, with its “old town” registered as a “National Historic District”.  During WWII, Florence was home to “Camp Florence”, the largest POW camp in the United States that housed over 13,000 POWs namely from the North African Campaign.  As we worked our way back to the I-10, and about the time we were considering looking for a campsite or campground, we spied a Walmart Superstore that happened to be in Coolidge and on the corner of the one square mile set aside for the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.  We considered just setting up in the parking lot of Walmart,  but then thought a shower would be nice, so we searched for a nearby campground and/or KOA.  We found a KOA not far from our location, which sent us to the I-8 (again) and to the Picacho KOA (of which was located next to the I-8…and a railroad!).  We decided to go to church the next morning in the nearby sleepy town of Eloy, with a “shuttered” Main Street, and an exuberant priest, whose homily was as entertaining as it was insightful.  This was followed by breakfast burritos, sponsored by the parish’s Knight’s of Columbus.  From there we headed to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.  While we were originally not too excited, and in fact considered just getting on the road toward home, we decided that we should not pass up a ready opportunity to sample our Nation’s National Monuments.  At least this one we wouldn’t have to hike to.  Turns out we were pleasantly surprised and completely awed by the monument.

In 1892 President Benjamin Harrison designated this one square mile as a prehistoric and cultural reserve.  It was the first time that open land such as this had been put aside for protection and preservation. Go figure!  On August 3, 1918 it was later reclassified as a National Monument, now the third such designation in our National Parks history (even though it ACTUALLY was the FIRST).

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The external “roof” was erected by the CCC to protect the remaining prehistoric structure

Although this structure was actively used by the ancient Sonoran desert people in the 1300’s (or possibly sooner), it was seemingly suddenly abandoned around 1450 and not “discovered” until 1694 by Padre Eusebio Franco Kino, who gave it its name, “Casa Grande”.  It still is considered one of the largest prehistoric structures ever built in North America, and to date we still haven’t figured out its purpose.  We have however figured that there are three specifically placed “holes”, based on the structure’s orientation, that are in solar alignment with the Spring and Fall equinoxes (two on the East wall) and the setting sun of the Summer solstice (west wall), which may have “aided in sustaining life” (aka. farming).

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In the visitor’s center, built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 1930’s we perused the well done interpretive displays, and watched a short movie chronicling the “known” history of the Casa Grande Ruins.

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Seeing that it was early morning and not too hot, we wandered through the site’s ruins.

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We marveled at the engineering feats of the ancient Sonoran desert people with regard to the structure(s) they built.  This particular structure was originally 4 stories with wooden plank floors whose walls are 3.7 ft thick and made of “concrete” adobe.  Additionally the compound has several other structures/walls in various states of decay, and once was fed by an intricate and wide-reaching irrigation system (which tapped the Gila River), that based on further studies enabled them to establish a thriving farming community.  Apparently they hand dug miles of irrigation canals often 9ft wide and 6ft deep, perfectly graded to allow water to flow evenly from the Gila River.  Some of the irrigation ditches and canals are still in use today!

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“J. W. Ward 1871 Sgt. 1st Calvary

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D. Henness 8-13-1886

We also marveled at the time, the not-so-honored “tradition” of graffiti carved into the remains of Casa Grande.  Having a stagecoach route run within yards of the structure didn’t help either.  I would hate to be related to these guys who so prominently and permanently etched their names into “history” for an “I was here” moment.   Further research (because I’m a nerd) revealed a paper published by Department of Interior (National Park Service), complied by A. Berle Clemensen titled “Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Arizona: A Centennial History of the First Prehistoric Reserve 1892-1992“,  chronicling the “evolution”of the management of the Casa Grande Ruins.  I found this paper (156 pages…yes I read it in its entirety) absolutely fascinating and completely enlightening on how the preservation, study and interpretation of property, artifacts, structures and cultural icons of the Casa Grande Ruins evolved under the purview of the Department of Interior, more specifically our National Parks.

We left Casa Grande and ultimately Arizona with a much greater respect and appreciation of our Native Americans, early pioneers and this beautiful and highly interesting state of the Union, that is Arizona.

 

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Turkey Creek…and out

Having just sucked down our first cup of cowboy coffee, the quiet enclave that is the Eastern approach to Aravaipa Canyon was rumbling with activity. IMG_20170429_122131618 A dust cloud proceeded the entourage of 4wd vehicles that poured into the creek and our serene abode.  Looks like all the permits will be used today!  7 vehicles and 13 people later, the East end 20 were sloshing through the canyon.  Luckily we were going the opposite direction.  Today was to be an easy day.  We were in search of what was to be an intact early Indian cliff dwelling.  Off we trod over a wonderfully compact BLM dirt road.  One creek crossing, then two, three, four, five (dry does this count?), six, and seven but no corral or sign.

Maybe we counted wrong.  Okay, two more and whaa-laa there is the corral and just beyond that is the sign.

From here we follow a narrow trail that leads to a well kept cliff dwelling.  BLM has repaired it a bit, but for the most part it is fairly well intact.  We climb up and explore a bit. It was built somewhere around 1300 AD and was “abandoned” around 1450 AD.  The best we can surmise is that it was a seasonal “hunting cabin” of sorts.  We imagine the creek ran a bit wider, deeper and faster, so this was on the edge of the creek above the high flow line, and thusly kept one “high and dry”, and out of the weather for the most part.   Deer, coatimundi, rabbits and other furry edible creatures were obviously in abundance (otherwise why build such a sturdy structure).

And either these hunters were much smaller than we are today, or the tiny doorway and small interior were a means of staying warm and keeping unwanted critters out with greater efficiency.  Minimalists take note.

IMG_20170426_171711349_HDRUpon returning to our camper, it was time to pack up and head out.  Our goal on the way out was to check out the “resupply” point at the Klondyke Post Office (which is for sale?).  And after that to find the “turn” on the Grand Enchantment trail “out of Klondyke”.

After surveying the “Post Office”, we went in search of the next “turn” out of Klondyke on the Grand Enchantment Trail.  We believe we discovered the “turn”, but unfortunately signage is not good, and deft knowledge of map reading, GPS devices and their corresponding waypoints is a must, something we are going to have to really practice if we are going to do this trail.  And with that he headed back to California.  But NOT without another exploratory stop.  More tomorrow.

 

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